Best gay bars in Chicago

Boystown is the center of the gay scene in Chicago. But great gay bars can be found everywhere from downtown to Uptown.

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Best gay bars in Chicago: Berlin

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Photograph: Christopher Kitahara

Best gay bars in Chicago: Big Chicks

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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Best gay bars in Chicago: The Closet

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Best gay bars in Chicago: Crew Bar and Grill

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Photograph: Taylor Castle

Best gay bars in Chicago: Downtown Bar

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Best gay bars in Chicago: Elixir

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Photograph: Jaclyn Elizabeth Rivas

Best gay bars in Chicago: The Glenwood

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Best gay bars in Chicago: Mary's Attic

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Photograph: Jaclyn Elizabeth Rivas

Best gay bars in Chicago: Parlour on Clark

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Best gay bars in Chicago: Scarlet Bar

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Best gay bars in Chicago: Sidetrack

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Best gay bars in Chicago: Wangs

From dance clubs to chill hangouts to sporty pubs, there's a gay bar in Chicago for every type. The best part: They're not all in Boystown! 

RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best bars in Chicago

Berlin

This freak-friendly dance destination in Lakeview built its reputation back in the mid-’80s with a mix of German new-wave music, art installations and even transvestite shows. These days, it’s still quirky but more retro, with Prince-tribute, disco and ’80s nostalgia nights. Goths and gays are extra welcome, but the scene here is made up of almost everyone. Thursday night's Stardust is a major locus of nightlife creativity.

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Big Chicks

Not a Boystown fan? Skip the stand-and-model parade and head to this laid-back Uptown saloon, where community matriarch Michelle Fire serves up tasty victuals to sunburned boys and girls at her famous Sunday buffets and keeps the rest of the week happening with tons of food and drink specials (like buck burgers on Mondays) and all-out dance parties on weekends.

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Uptown

The Closet

Critics' pick

This teeny taproom is a good stone’s throw from the hustle and muscle of Halsted Street’s rowdy boy bars, and that’s just the way this clientele likes it. Plenty of ladies hang here until the midnight hour, but the boys crash the party shortly thereafter, creating one of the few truly mixed queer scenes in the city.

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Boystown

Crew Bar and Grill

Whether you’re hungry for baseball, football, rugby or just beer, this straight-friendly gay sports bar will work. Forty beers on tap (75 total), tasty (and even healthy) pub grub, lots of TVs and a rah-rah decor make this a fun place to cheer for your team, whatever team you’re on.

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Uptown

Downtown

It’s not Gentry (R.I.P., catty piano player cracking jokes about our ugly shoes), but are we complaining? No. Because not only does this place attract one of the more diverse gay crowds in the city, but it’s also the closest gay enclave to the Loop.

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River North

Elixir

At this shoebox of a cocktail bar, the drinks are skillfully prepared, the crowd is kept to a minimum by the doorman, and the music never gets so loud that it drowns out your insights on Jean Genet. The clientele is mixed in age but not in gender, and everyone is on their best behavior, which makes it an altogether more sophisticated and adult experience than Elixir’s next-door sister, Hydrate.

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The Glenwood

At first glance, this place looks like your typical yuppie sports bar, but the vastly male clientele, plum and ochre walls adorned with abstract art, and Kylie Minogue soundtrack reveal it to be Rogers Park’s straightest-acting gay bar. It’s also dog-friendly and offers a nice selection of retro cocktails like sidecars and lime rickeys.

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Mary's Attic

Don't expect this upstairs bar to vaunt a granny's attic vibe. Given that it sits above the gay-friendly Hamburger Mary's, it's more like a tranny's attic what with the rampant kitsch, rowdy karaoke nights and fringe theater dominating the Attic's tiny stage.

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Andersonville

Parlour on Clark

How does a Far North Side taproom open during a recession-stressed economy and become an instant successs? Credit a neighborhood hungry for a low-key and friendly LGBT bar with an all-inclusive vibe, solid DJs and indie queer performances to keep things interesting.

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Chicago

Progress Bar

Opened in June 2013 in the former Cocktail space at the heart of the ’hood, this new entry on the Boystown scene boasts a cloud-like overhead sculpture installation made up of 19,000 twinkling light bulbs. It also boasts a better selection of craft beers on tap than most bars on the Halsted strip, pouring elixirs like Magic Hat #9 and local brew Hopothesis IPA. The vibe seems laid back—no sign yet of Cocktail's ubiquitous go-go dancers (though we'll keep our eyes out).

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